Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

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psteinx
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Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by psteinx »

I'm looking for input on a large, but challenging bare space that I'd like to use as a veggie garden - ideally planting soon.

I actually posted about this space years ago, but have a firmer set or parameters now.

We have a ~'25 x '30 space of bare dirt (with weeds), that used to be a playground area (w/ wood chips, largely decomposed now).

It's mostly flat.

The soil is OK, not great.

It's fairly heavily shaded (probably 30-40% sun, depending on the specific part of the space).

We're in the St. Louis area (adjust climate expectations accordingly).

For various reasons, I think the best use is a simple, low maintenance garden. I have some other garden space and experience, but am hardly a green thumb.

I'd like to do something simple and straightforward, with a hope of producing something edible/displayable this year (i.e. not a multi-year crop). Something that can fight off the weeds, to some extent, and requires relatively little effort from me to produce SOMETHING ok. I'll likely water a bit in the heat of summer, but am not always reliable on this front. (We don't have an irrigation system.)

Anyways, my tentative plan is:

1) Kill the weeds, either with an application of weed killer and/or by getting them with a weed whacker. This will, I assume, suppress them some, but they'll try to come back.

2) Add a bag or so of some simple chemical fertilizer. I suppose I could spread compost/manure on top, but that's more effort and money, for a big space.

3) Plant something that requires not much effort by me. I'm thinking some mounded plants - probably pumpkins - reason - the mounds give them (maybe) an advantage against weeds, the big vines are easy to identify as separate from other weeds that grow, and if I get 5 pumpkins or 40 (or 0), I can live with that - display/eat smaller quantities, give away larger quantities if that's the (unexpected) result.

4) Depending on how this year goes, adjust plan for future years accordingly (the advantage of a one-year crop is that if it's a bust, I can easily try something else next year).

Thoughts/suggestions?
Mike Scott
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by Mike Scott »

I can't think think of any common vegetables that will grow with that much shade. There are some ornamentals and perennials that would do well in shade or you could open up the tree canopy for more sun.
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psteinx
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by psteinx »

For better or worse, much of the shade is the result of trees and a 6' fence that are my neighbors' (i.e. I can't readily control). There's a large tree or two of my own I could cut down, but I like my trees.

So yeah, it's a pretty shady spot.

At one point I was considering ornamentals, fire pit, etc. But my neighbors have multiple dogs that bark a lot, at their fence, which is close to the garden spot. So it wouldn't be a very relaxing rest spot.
Last edited by psteinx on Mon May 10, 2021 6:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
livesoft
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by livesoft »

Maybe you will be able to grow dirt or mushrooms? You could also compost in this space and use the compost later in a very sunny place.

If one walks around their neighborhood or anywhere else, then one can see what fills shady spaces and arrive at their own ideas.

Perhaps you can make it into a natural place for some wildlife that you would like to have around such as songbirds, snakes, rats?
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JS-Elcano
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by JS-Elcano »

The shade makes it tricky for vegetables. Also, as an avid gardener myself, I don't know of any vegetable that takes little to no effort as far as watering and weed control is concerned and still produces well. Maybe kale? But what will you do with so much kale. A vegetable garden really needs continuous attention, not necessarily daily, but every few days and then you want to have the time to deal with whatever needs attention, watering, weeding, catching pests early, etc.

Maybe just cover the area in clover? It will over time improve your soil and it covers the area and it is cheap.
hi_there
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by hi_there »

We have a plot of garden area that mirrors this description, although perhaps ours is a bit more sunny. What we did is plant a variety of butterfly and pollinator friendly perennials, with the goal of attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. There are many such plants that can thrive in partial shade. We put in a combination of flowering plants to attract pollinating insects, and native host plants for migrating butterfly species. I imagine that plants that are native to your area will be tolerant to your soil without the need for much conditioning.

In terms of weed control, it shouldn't be too hard to scrape away the mulch and apply landscaping cloth underneath. This would be a more persistent long term solution than weed killer. Plus, no need to deal with weird chemicals.

I think vegetables like pumpkins might be difficult, since these like full sun. Perhaps there is a way to plant them vertically to reach spaces that are not shaded by the fence.
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psteinx
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by psteinx »

Yeah, if I can't get something to grow there decently well this year, I may revert to something perennial or whatever for future years. But it's easier for me to try a one-year planting and know the results quickly, vs. something that takes 3+ years to establish, and where I may not know the results until 2023.

FWIW, I may be slightly overestimating the shade problem. Our white-sided house, plus light gray-ish foundation, abuts the area sort of diagonally, and probably reflects some extra sunlight in. Maybe the best areas are ~50-60% effective sunlight (including reflection), with other bits worse off.
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TxAg
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by TxAg »

This would be inexpensive and worth a try.

https://youtu.be/GlratwBT5OI
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TxAg
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by TxAg »

Carrots might work also. I like the multicolored variety.

A butterfly or bee garden would might work also. You'll still get some flowers with the reduced sunshine.
Mr. Rumples
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by Mr. Rumples »

Get the soil tested through your extension agent. That will tell you not only the PH, but the nutrients and level of organic matter that exists. You can put down all the fertilizer in the world, but if there is no calcium in the soil, it won't be absorbed. Fortunately, its easy to add.

Secondly, come up with a budget. Some things might be less expensive than you think. I had five cubit yards of mulch delivered and spread for $345. Its the same price for compost. Lately, I have become a fan of triple shredded hardwood mulch to mix with soil and organic fertilizer.

Thirdly, get rid of the weed block fabric if any is left - from your earlier post.

Then I'd see about easy maintenance plants. That will lead you into native plants. While you may not want a "rain garden" as such, they tend to use native plants and therein you might find shade friendly ones. Here are some resources for your area:

https://www.deercreekalliance.org/rain_gardens
https://msdprojectclear.org/customers/p ... n-gardens/

When I put in my rain garden, a representative of my district came out, made suggestions about where to get plants, and gave me literature on plants.

Shade gardens are a bit tricky; often the soil isn't great, they might hold moisture too long and tree roots might compete with the plants - some trees have surface roots, some don't. Its also important to note if it gets morning or afternoon sun. Getting even a few hours of sun will mean you can use plants which are "part shade" and "part sun" which gives more options, but veggies usually want at least 6 hours of full sun.

A lot of the annuals sold are for sun.

A note on terms: full shade gardens get less than four hours of sunlight per day, while partial shade gardens are four to six hours of sun each day. Seems tedious, but it helps with plant selection.
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leeks
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by leeks »

Vegetables are tough in part shade. I've tried with limited success. Greens like spinach/arugula/lettuce might be okay. Mint and some herbs can take part shade. I've gotten some grape tomatoes and small-fruited pepper plants to fruit a little in part shade, but they were not that productive.

Shade-tolerant blueberries or other fruiting shrubs maybe? Mulberries and juneberries are understory trees that can grow in part shade. Maybe the native strawberries?

https://www.thespruce.com/fruits-that-g ... de-1388680

These guys are my favorite plant catalog, they are a nursery that sells all kinds of edible plants. If you call them up and describe your site, they will give you recommendations of what kinds of edible shrubs/small trees might be able to grow there. They are very helpful.
https://ediblelandscaping.com/

I wouldn't put weed killer on a site where you want to consume anything. You could cut everything down, then cover with plastic for a month or so to kill whatever is there now. Or just pull/dig them all up and then add a thick layer of mulch to suppress new weeds.

If there's nothing edible and shade tolerant that appeals to you - I'd do an arrangement of native perennials.
forgeblast
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by forgeblast »

psteinx wrote: Mon May 10, 2021 6:43 pm For better or worse, much of the shade is the result of trees and a 6' fence that are my neighbors' (i.e. I can't readily control). There's a large tree or two of my own I could cut down, but I like my trees.

So yeah, it's a pretty shady spot.

At one point I was considering ornamentals, fire pit, etc. But my neighbors have multiple dogs that bark a lot, at their fence, which is close to the garden spot. So it wouldn't be a very relaxing rest spot.
Not veggie, but hosta and ferns would would great in there. The hosta would shade out most weeds. If you go with an edible fern you could have fiddle heads in the spring.
sls239
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by sls239 »

Blueberries?
Ivygirl
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by Ivygirl »

They make eco-friendly "landscape fabric" of heavy brown paper that comes in rolls. Roll it out, slice an X where you want to put a plant, cover with mulch. It will last a year then decompose.

Strawberries are a good choice for a ground cover in semi-shade. They will put out runners, shade out weeds, and bear fruit in the sunny areas, plus they are not obnoxious to get rid of if you change your mind later, just till them under. Plus they have pretty foliage and white blooms.

For easy watering you could put a soaker hose under the landscape paper.
Mr. Rumples
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by Mr. Rumples »

Blueberries might work. Cardboard, brown, will work with all of the plastic and labels removed as well as the rolls of brown paper - both of which I have used. The downside is that worms can't come up to breath during wet spells.

The key to remember is that soil is not dirt, it is complex full of life. It can take a few years to get a good garden going.
MJS
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by MJS »

For truly easy easy easy, plant Mint. Do not mix Mints because next year you will have mixed-up mint plants that taste weird. Of course, some people would recommend that you first put a 12 foot deep barrier around the edges of your mint patch, but they exaggerate.

A field of leaf-alliums -- common chives, society garlic, garlic chives and giant siberian chives -- would work, and might even annoy the dogs next door. Put in edgings of lemon balm and parsley if you'd like something more decorative. Put Mint plants in raised pots at strategic points. Bees will love you.
sleepwell
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by sleepwell »

Another thing you need to determine is whether your area is dry or damp. I have a somewhat spacious area in one part of my yard which stays damp most of the time; also, it gets only morning sun. After trying a few different ideas, I decided this spring to dig a small pond, perhaps 5 X 7 feet. It isn't particularly deep, only 9 inches at one end, but I have had a lot of fun with it. I bought a pond liner from Amazon and got out the wheelbarrow. It took less than an hour to dig. The frogs love it, squirrels and birds drink out of it. I surrounded the area with hostas, ferns, and a variety of other plants which do well in damp shade. Unfortunately, the deer here are plentiful and they love hostas, so I ended up erecting wire fencing over part of the area. It looks tacky but the frogs and birds don't care.

If you do not have much sun, I suggest that you steer away from vegetables, blueberries, etc., all of which require sun. I know, because over the many years living here, all the trees have grown taller and plants which I was able to grow 30 years ago no longer do well.

Good luck and happy gardening!

Sleepwell
forgeblast
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by forgeblast »

MJS wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 1:07 pm For truly easy easy easy, plant Mint. Do not mix Mints because next year you will have mixed-up mint plants that taste weird. Of course, some people would recommend that you first put a 12 foot deep barrier around the edges of your mint patch, but they exaggerate.

A field of leaf-alliums -- common chives, society garlic, garlic chives and giant siberian chives -- would work, and might even annoy the dogs next door. Put in edgings of lemon balm and parsley if you'd like something more decorative. Put Mint plants in raised pots at strategic points. Bees will love you.
Mint has aspirations for taking over the world lol, the previous owner planted it and now its spread all over the yard. Brutal.
jpelder
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by jpelder »

forgeblast wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 6:42 am
MJS wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 1:07 pm For truly easy easy easy, plant Mint. Do not mix Mints because next year you will have mixed-up mint plants that taste weird. Of course, some people would recommend that you first put a 12 foot deep barrier around the edges of your mint patch, but they exaggerate.

A field of leaf-alliums -- common chives, society garlic, garlic chives and giant siberian chives -- would work, and might even annoy the dogs next door. Put in edgings of lemon balm and parsley if you'd like something more decorative. Put Mint plants in raised pots at strategic points. Bees will love you.
Mint has aspirations for taking over the world lol, the previous owner planted it and now its spread all over the yard. Brutal.
I bet it smells nice when you mow. Plus, unlimited mojitos!

I like the strawberry idea for OP. I started with a single strawberry plant two years ago, now I have dozens filling an entire bed. They are in part shade (they get a couple of hours of morning sun, but are mostly shaded by the house) and I've gotten about a gallon of berries over the past 3 weeks (plus more than I haven't beat the birds to). Zero maintenance required.
fourniks
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by fourniks »

I live in the same geographic area as you do and have some partial shade gardens. A couple of suggestions:

1.) If you have a way to haul, the City offers free mulch. You can mix that with inexpensive, bagged topsoil and place on top of your footprint. You may require a lot if you decide not to turn/till base soil.
2.) In your area, you will most likely have a LOT of clay. Elevated beds may be your friend, that's why I suggest just mounding added soil.
3.) I have small strip gardens on both sides of the house - one east-facing and one west facing. They each get about 50% sun. I have been successful with spinach, kale, lettuce, some peppers and cherry tomatoes.

Good luck!
Ramjet
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Re: Large, shaded garden area - simple ideas?

Post by Ramjet »

My backyard has 3 large trees and a fence, not much sun. Hard time even growing grass under the trees and close to the fence. We've done burning bushes, hydrangeas, and boxwoods
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